Pair of aces push Calvert, St. Joe to sectional finals

BASCOM – It was cold outside.

Weather conditions were more suited a football playoff game than a baseball tournament game.

But despite the chill in the air, there was a great deal of heat surrounding the baseball diamond at Hopewell-Loudon. And it seemed to be radiating from the pitching mound.

Strong pitching performances by Calvert’s Eric Elchert and Fremont St. Joe’s Zack Yeckley were key in each team claiming Division IV sectional semifinal victories during a Saturday afternoon doubleheader.

The day opened with a classic pitchers duel between Elchert and Lakota’s Nick Watts. The two matched zeros on the scoreboard through five innings before Calvert finally erupted in the sixth. The Senecas pushed nine runs across the plate in the final two innings of a 9-1 triumph over the Raiders.

Elchert went the distance, allowing five hits and one unearned run while striking out 11.

Yeckley took the mound next and was dominant in his team’s 12-2 victory over Old Fort. Through three innings St. Joe’s fireballer struck out seven. He didn’t allow a hit until a bloop single in the fifth. He finished up going 5 2/3 innings allowing three hits and two runs, punching out a total of eight.

Watts’ performance was certainly on par with that of the two aces, who threw their teams into the sectional finals. Through five innings Watts held Calvert in check, holding the Senecas to only four hits with eight strikeouts. In the sixth however, Watts ran into problems.

It began when he hit his counterpart Elchert. Then, pinch hitter Jacob Zimmerman laced a single to right field, which Calvert coach Dustin Ritchie called the spark that ignited the rally.

“Jacob Zimmerman, he’s been kind of our spark guy,” Ritchie said. “We put him in to pinch hit and he did his job. He put the ball in play and that kind of got things rolling for us. We were able to hit with runners in scoring position at that point, and kind of got everyone fired up.”

With the bases loaded, Brian Gruss singled home Calvert’s first run. Austin Perry followed up with a shot up the middle that got past Lakota shortstop Austin Payne and brought in two more runs.

Gruss crossed the plate after Jacob Vera was hit by a pitch and Elchert capped off the rally himself with a single driving in two.

After pitching five solid innings, Lakota coach Terry James said it was a situation of his young ace just running out of gas.

“Yeah he ran out of gas and we didn’t play fundamentally sound behind him,” he said. “Nick’s a sophomore. That kid’s going to be the best pitcher in this league probably the next two years. We’re excited to have him around; he’ll get stronger.”

James also credited Elchert with baffling his hitters.

“You tip your hat to Elchert, Calvert,” James said. “We’re a good hitting team, that’s what we do best. Elchert kept us off-balance too, you got to tip your hat to that kid.

“He changed speeds well. There was a lot of up-and-down, in-and-out, but he changed speeds well on us tonight. He was throwing hard, then he’d take something off of it, that kept us off balance.”

Elchert was also instrumental in one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. In the fourth inning, Elchert walked the first two batters, who then moved up to second and third with no outs. But Elchert responded by striking out Ed Racheter, then when Dakota Gilbert bunted back to the mound, Elchert paused to freeze the Tiger Jaso at third, then threw on to first. Jaso took off for home but was tagged out ending the inning.

“That was a huge play momentum wise,” Ritchie said. “That kept them out; that allowed us to come back and start plugging away, putting runs on the board. Again I go back to Eric Elchert, he does a phenomenal job even with no outs and runners in scoring position, he takes care of business for us.”

When St. Joe took the field against Old Fort, coach Robert George was looking for a better performance out of his team that he got earlier in the season when the Streaks needed a seventh inning rally to top the Stockaders. He said two quick first inning runs were important stop any confidence Old Fort might have built up.

“Yes it was, because the last time we played this team we were down 6-2 in the bottom of the seventh at our home and we came back, but that was a little too close for us,” he said. “Today I told the guys, I said ‘they were happy that they chose us because they wanted revenge. … We need to make sure we perform because these guys think they’re going to come out here and beat us so we have to perform better than we did that day’ and they did. I’m very proud of those guys.”

While Yeckley was mowing down Stockader hitters, the Streaks were taking advantage of numerous Old Fort mistakes.

The four runs St. Joe compiled came off of one hit, a two-run double by Jacob Wurzel in the first inning. The Streaks pushed across two in the second helped by three walks and an error.

Old Fort pitching offered up 12 free passes to the Streaks on the game.

Mistakes piled up again in the third inning. Wurzel opened the inning reaching on an error, and was brought home on a single by Bennett Weickert. Two more walks set the stage for Jake Yeckley who drove in two with a single upping the lead to 7-0 after three. He had three RBIs in the game.

It was more than enough run-support for Zack Yeckley.

“He pitched very well today,” George said of his ace. “It was like a mirror performance from the last time we played which was against Lakota. He had a complete game, didn’t allow any runs. Today his pitch count was low, but he started having little problems in the sixth inning so we took him out. He did his job.”

Yeckley cruised into the fifth inning when his perfect game was broken up by a bloop single from Maison Steyer. Steyer came around to score on a ground out by Marc Harris. Old Fort got one more off Yeckley in the sixth when Brandon Tittle drove home Cole Davidson that made the score 10-2.

George then turned to Weickert to shut the door on Old Fort’s half of the sixth. The Streaks responded with two in the bottom of the inning to end the game.

Calvert will be back at Hopewell-Loudon to face sectional top seed Gibsonburg Monday at 5 p.m. with St. Joe meeting host Chieftains Tuesday with district semifinal spots on the line.